Where did all those "extraordinarily, unbelievably, stunningly gorgeous" Russian women come from, asks Anne Applebaum. If you walked into any "well-appointed drawing room, dining room, or restaurant in London" around 1995 there they were, she says. But in the 1970s and 80s, the Soviet Union was not "was not widely known for feminine pulchritude". So what happened?
According to Applebaum, it’s all about supply and demand. Before the collapse of communism there was just no market for female beauty:
This doesn’t mean there weren’t any beautiful women, of course, just that they didn’t have the clothes or cosmetics to enhance their looks, and, far more important, they couldn’t use their faces to launch international careers. Instead of gracing London drawing rooms, they stayed in Minsk, Omsk, or Alma Ata. Instead of couture, they wore cheap polyester. They could become assembly-line forewomen, Communist Party bosses, even local femmes fatales, but not Vogue cover girls. They didn’t even dream of becoming Vogue cover girls, since very few had ever seen an edition of Vogue.
And maybe she’s right. But this doesn’t mean that Soviet women weren’t interested in makeup and hairdos. In 1959 the United States opened a new front in the Cold War by staging a spectacular display of American consumerism in the political heart of the Soviet empire. In one pavilion visitors were treated to demonstrations of American make up and hair styling. According to the National Geographic:
Communism’s praise of strong backs and callused hands lost a round when fairgoers saw Western beauty operators in action.
Women pressed in so eagerly for free demonstrations that ropes were put up to protect the pavilion. Crowds grew so enthusiastic that Russian authorities banned further treatments except for American women associated with the fair.
In his article for the magazine Vice President Richard Nixon boasted that the exhibition showed "how nearly we in America have achieved freedom and abundance for all in a classless society — the very goal that the Communists claim as their own special property!"
Maybe George Bush and Tony Blair should have sent Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse to Iraq instead of sending in the miltary?